The 2014 college football season is here, and nobody is more excited than Mike Hall from the Big Ten Network (Channel 610). The Chicago native spoke with DIRECTV about the upcoming season, how the newest additions to the Big Ten will impact the conference and which team has the best uniforms.
It hardly seems possible, but the 2014/2015 season is here! What do you see as the biggest Big Ten storylines heading into this season?
I think there are a few. At the top, can the Big Ten get a team into the first College Football Playoff? If so, it would be a big perception win for the league, and more than anything if they can’t it would be a big hit. The good thing is if you’re a Big Ten fan you have multiple options – Ohio State might have their best team yet under Urban Meyer (and that’s saying something for a coach who has yet to lose a regular season game at OSU), Michigan State is arguably a preseason top ten team and no one alive should doubt them after winning the Rose Bowl last year, and if Wisconsin can find a defense to go along with their amazing running game then they could beat LSU week one which would then put them in the discussion as well. Other storylines include James Franklin in his first year in charge of Penn State and how much excitement he’s already created amongst the fans and recruits, which team can come out on top of the bundle at the top of the West Division between Iowa/Wisconsin/Nebraska, the two new teams and the two new division names, and finally, can Braxton Miller become the first player ever to win Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year three different times.
Concussion awareness is a huge issue right now in sports. Do you think the NCAA is doing enough to protect its athletes?
That’s a tough question. I wish I knew more about the science behind concussions to give a more thoughtful answer. But I know whenever there’s a discussion about ‘Is the game safe enough?’ I – along with most people – have a tendency towards leaning to the side of ‘let’s make it safer’ whenever possible. Some of the rule changes in the last couple of years have helped. My guess is that more will be coming.
What do you think about the Northwestern player unionization efforts? Do you see this as a movement that will continue to grow and spread to other schools?
I think the NU union movement has already made its impact. I never thought the players would actually become a union, but rather make enough noise to enact change in other areas… and that’s basically what happened. Now there have already been some changes: unlimited food, the new autonomy rules will allow the possibility for the full cost of attendance, better health care, perhaps ways for players families to travel easier, etc. So though the union movement might never quite come to full realization, many of the things they wanted in regards to athletes’ rights seem to already be happening.
How will the addition of Rutgers and the University of Maryland impact the Big Ten this season?
This particular season I don’t think there will be a massively noticeable change in terms of the on-the-field product. My guess is both teams are right around bowl-eligible teams (6-7 wins each) with the possibility of disappointment (Rutgers’ ridiculously hard schedule) and superior talent (the Maryland wide receivers). But more-so in the long term – the new recruiting areas, the larger access to the league (and BTN) to two of the 10 largest markets in the country, the media coverage that comes with that, etc – I think the Big Ten will benefit from the additions.
In your opinion, which Big Ten team has the best uniforms? This is very important!
Well yeah, obviously this is important! It’s hard to argue with Michigan’s helmet. Personally it’s easy to argue with Maryland’s. In general I love the color scheme of Blue and Orange (the Mets, the Bears, Auburn, etc) so Illinois is sneaky to me. But if I have to pick one, I’ll go against the grain and surprise you with Purdue. The black, the gold, the bold P on the helmet, I’ll ride with Purdue Pete any day.
The Big Ten Network can be seen on Channel 610 on DIRECTV.